Planet Earth Weekly

Climate Change and Renewable Energy: Saving Our Planet for Future Generations


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Xeriscaping: A Step Towards a Healthier Planet

xeriscape

Xeriscaping can be combined with a traditional lawn

“What can we do to eliminate the stress our lawns create on the environment? Xeriscape!”

By Linn Smith

June 15, 2017—Spring is turning into summer soon and it’s time to think about our yards. It’s time to ask ourselves if we can continue our current practices of lawn upkeep and still protect the planet.

In May, I published an article, “The Origin of Lawns and their Environmental Impact.” In this article I stated the negative impact of keeping a lawn green. “Keeping turf from turning brown wastes water. People use too many pesticides and herbicides that contaminate the soil and water surrounding their lawns. Mowing burns fossil fuels. Also, we’re killing off our bee population, which you probably have heard by now, we need for pollinating the food we eat.”

It’s estimated by the EPA that lawn irrigation uses approximately 9 billion gallons of water daily, sending nitrogen from lawn fertilizers into our waterways. Also, millions of tons of pollutants are emitted into the air from lawnmowers.

xeriscaping

Xeriscaping with native plants reduces water needs.

What can we do to eliminate the stress our lawns create on the environment? Xeriscape! We can replace turf that requires an excessive amount of water with plants that can withstand drought conditions. Xeriscaping is a more creative and less toxic method of maintaining the land around our homes. It uses plants that require little water to maintain.

According to http://www.xeriscape.sustainablesources.com, there are 7 things to consider when xeriscaping:
1. Planning and Design
2. Soil Improvement
3. Appropriate Plant Selection
4. Practical Turf Areas
5. Efficient Irrigation
6. Use of Mulches
7. Appropriate Maintenance

xeriscaping

Drought tolerant plants use less water and are hardier.

Planning and Design

It’s not necessary to Xeriscape your entire lawn. You can decide how much you want to plant sustainably. Choose native plants and plants well adapted to your area. Native plants are already survivers of the climate you live in. Rama Nayeri of Creation Landscape Design says, “For almost every non-native plant there is an equally sustainable native option”—which also attract native wildlife.

Soil Preparation

Get rid of the existing grass or weeds. If you’re in a hot sunny area you can cover your turf with black plastic in the spring or early summer. Leave it in place for 4-6 weeks. You can then remove the plastic, leave the dead grass as compost and begin planting and turning over soil. There are excellent instructions in an article at https://conservationcenter.org/gardens/turf-removal-replacement-101/

xeriscaping

Use plants native to your area.

Appropriate Plant Selection

The plants you choose for xeriscaping depends on what climate you live in. In the Southwest cacti may be the answer, while in more moist climates, prairie plants may be the answer. In an article by Julie Martens Forney, “Xeriscaping Plants”, http://www.hgtv.com, she states, “Many homeowners mistakenly associate xeriscaping plants with a desert-style garden, featuring cacti, yucca and agave. The fact is that xeriscaping plants run the gamut, from classic drought-tolerant succulents, to prairie plants, to ornamental grasses.”

Most drought tolerant plants for your area would be plants native to your region. These are the original plants that graced your landscape before folks started digging them up! The website, Native Plant Finder, at http://www.nwf.org, will help you identify native plants to your area buy entering your zipcode.

xeriscaping

Xeriscaping requires less lawn care.

Practical Turf Areas

You can decide how much turf to leave for such purposes as play areas, pet areas and areas for sports. Designing these in a round shape can make for easier mowing and more efficient watering. Choose turf which requires the least amount of water.

You can talk to experts in greenhouses or your local university extension turf grass management program, which often offers free advice for home owners in lawn care.

Efficient Irrigation

To prevent over watering know how much water your plants/lawn need. The most effective way to water is to water deeply but not often.

Morning is the best time to water because evening waterings can invite fungus to grow overnight. Measure rain with a gauge. If you get 1 inch or more skip the watering. You can attach a rain sensor or moisture sensor to your sprinkler system to shut it off. Use a rain barrel to harvest water for plants that you water by hand.

A study found that homes with sprinkler systems used 35% more water than other homes. It found that most people with irrigation systems use “a set it and forget it” method. The study states that without proper scheduling and use of sensors, a sprinkler system is extremely wasteful. If you have 1/4  acre you could end up using 6,000 gallons of water to get a one inch deep watering.

A sensor by Toro has 2 prongs that measure the moisture of the soil and shuts down the sprinkler system if water isn’t needed. This method can use up to 40% less water. The Toro 53812 Xtra Smart Soil Moisture Sensor sells on Amazon for $126, or you can shop around because there are other moisture sensors available online.

Use of Mulches

Mulches are used around plants to hold the moisture in the ground. They can consist of bark chips, straw, compost, gravel, rocks or a plastic fabric sheet. Whatever kind you choose, it should allow water and air to pass through to the plants. Mulch can also be beneficial in creating paths through your landscape. Organic mulches, (bark, straw, pine needles, leaves, nut shells ect) are best because they add nutrients to the soil. Large landscape rocks can also help hold moisture in the soil.

Maintenance

A xeriscaped yard requires less maintenance than a traditional yard. Pruning, trimming dead branches, can stimulate plant growth. Use natural methods of pest control, as chemicals can kill beneficial insects. Bees and many insects are needed for pollination. To reduce unwanted insects you can use insecticidal soaps or install bird and bat houses around your yard. Natural pesticides also include Neem oil, salt spray, mineral oil, citrus oil, cayenne pepper, Eucalyptus oil, onion and garlic spray and many more. Native plants are adapted to your local soil so do not need fertilizer.

In conclusion, what is needed is a commitment by each homeowner to lessen the burden on our Mother Earth. You can start small with a portion of your lawn if a large project seems too intimidating. The important thing is to make a move in the right direction, either large or small!

Xeriscape for a healthy planet!


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The Origin of Lawns and Their Environmental Impact

“We should all know by now that lawns of green grass aren’t so “green” for the environment.”

By Linn Smith

May 10,2017—Lawns are not a natural part of our environment. Lawns originated around the 16th century as grassy fields around English and French castles. Trees were cut down around the castles, leaving only grassy fields that would reveal an enemy coming forth in the wide open spaces. When the trees were cut, the grasses and flowers sprouted naturally, creating a meadow. “Lawn” originated from the word Launde, which means an opening in the woods. The moist climate of Europe supported these grassy meadows which eventually became our lawns of today.

Origination of the Lawn

The castles created meadows, “lawns”, to watch for
approaching enemies.

The History of Grass Lawns

“Grass” is from the plant family Gramineae, which has over 9000 species of plants. In the late 16th century “grass” lawns became fashionable, rapidly catching on among the wealthy. In 16th and 17th centuries lawns were mostly wildflowers and herbs such as chamomile.

Gardeners maintained the lawn with a scythe

Only the wealthy could afford lawn care.

Until the 19th century, mowing consisted of a scythe, shears for edge trimming, a gardener to maintain the lawns, and/or cattle and sheep grazing around the estates. In the 18th century this was a sign of the wealth, the vast lawn showing the amount of wealth of the owner (reminds me of Jane Austin novels)–lawns implied a staff and servants with scythes, shears and edging irons.

Mowers: Creating Easier Lawn Maintenace

In 1870 the push mower was invented, and in 1919 the gasoline mower allowed for much less effort in maintaining a lawn. (A note of interest: during World War 1, Woodrow Wilson had a flock of sheep, about fifty, cutting the White House lawn, which saved manpower during the war. He sold their wool to the Red Cross.)

When the suburbs sprouted up in the U.S. after the war, the architects created lawns around homes, which increased the value of the house and was inviting to the post war families who enjoyed lawn games of croquet, badminton, ect. In the late 1940’s and 1950’s, houses were sold with lawns already in place. With the gasoline mower and the sprinkler system, the lawns were easily maintained.

The Downside of the Beautiful Lawn

So, here’s the downside of our beautiful, European lawns today: In an article on Smithsonian.com, Sarah Zielinski says it nicely, “We should all know by now that lawns of green grass aren’t so “green” for the environment. Keeping turf from turning brown wastes water, people use too many pesticides and herbicides, toxic chemicals that contaminate the fish we eat and water we drink. And mowing burns fossil fuels, releasing greenhouse gases and other pollutants into the atmosphere. Plus nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas, is released into the atmosphere with fertilization!”

And one more negative impact of our nice lawns–we are harming the bee population which we depend so heavily on for pollinating the wonderful foods we love! So, unless you are maintaining your lawn with only a scythe, push mower or sheep, maybe it’s time to rethink what we plant in our yards!

Xeriscaping:  The Green Lawn

Xeriscaping can reduce cost and care of lawns.

Xeriscaping

Xeriscaping is a water conserving method that orginated in Colorado. It originated from the Greek word “Xero”, which means dry and “Scape” meaning view. It does not mean zero landscaping. It does mean planting plants that will do well with little watering. The plants are not necessarily native to the area, but are selected for their water conserving abilities. Xeriscaping makes more water available to the community and the environment and reduces maintenance, with just occasional weeding and mulching. Less cost and less maintenance leaves more time for other things! Xeriscaping also reduces water pollution, as herbicides and pesticides don’t end up in the groundwater.

New Mexico has been planting the most beautiful yards using water conserving plants for centuries! It’s time to rethink our beautiful lawns and think about creating beautiful Xeriscaped yards instead!

Lawns of green grass aren’t so “green” for the environment!


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Urban Heat Islands: Their Effects and Solutions

the heat island effect

Heat Island prevent heat from escaping cities.

“As urban areas grow a person’s health will be connected to the build up of heat and pollution in the city…..it will become essential to build green.”

By Linn Smith

April 20, 2017—–If you live in a city you probably have noticed how much cooler it is in the summertime when you take a drive in the country. Drive back toward the city, with its concrete buildings, and you feel the great intensiveness of a hot summer day. There’s a name for this city heat….the urban heat island effect.

What is a Heat Island?

An urban heat island describes a large area of buildings and concrete (cities) that has temperatures which are higher than the countryside surrounding them. According to http://www.epa.gov, “The annual mean air temperature of a city with 1 million people or more can be 1.8–5.4°F (1–3°C) warmer than its surroundings. In the evening, the difference can be as high as 22°F (12°C).” With global warming the temperatures of the heat islands will continue to increase.

Urban heat profile

Urban areas hold heat.

What Causes the Build Up of Heat?

As you enter a city you may notice concrete and asphalt surrounding you—-buildings, parking lots, streets and side walks. The concrete and asphalt absorb the sun’s heat rather than reflecting it, causing surface temperatures to rise. The rise in temperature also causes a depletion of vegetation resulting in less shade and moisture in the air. The resulting heat requires an increase in energy consumption—air conditioning which results in greater electrical use. This  cycle  keeps revolving—a catch 22 in which there is no escape from the merry-go-round of negative conditions from heat build-up.

Smog and Heat Islands

Cities can also cause “hotspots” of pollution. This smog can trap heat over a city, holding in the gases from coal burning facilities and vehicle emissions, not allowing them to escape into the atmosphere (the greenhouse effect). In addition, the closely built structures resist air flow, keeping the air trapped in the city, unlike the countryside which cools off as the air flows more freely.

Health Effects of Heat Islands

Some of the more obvious effects of heat islands are discomfort, breathing problems, heat stroke and exhaustion. But they can also be related to cardiovascular disease, sleep deprivation, depression and many more!

urban heat island

Build Green

Minimizing the Heat Island Effect

New technologies for minimizing heat islands are rapidly being developed. Several techniques currently in use for developing green urban areas are:

*Cut down on heat absorbing materials, such as asphalt and cement, by using more reflective surfaces for paved areas.The pavement can be enhanced by using reflective aggregate, a reflective or clear binder or a reflective surface coating.
*Plant trees that shade streets and paved areas.
*Use white roof membranes instead of black.
*Create a green roof–rooftop gardens.
*Create rooftop decks made from wood.
*Increase shade around buildings.
*Use energy efficient appliances and equipment which cut down on electrical use.

As National Geographic summarized, “Urban heat islands can have worse air and water quality than their rural neighbors. They often have lower air quality because there are more pollutants (waste products from vehicles, industry, and people) being pumped into the air. These pollutants are blocked from scattering and becoming less toxic by the urban landscape: buildings, roads, sidewalks, and parking lots.”

As urban areas grow a person’s health will be connected to the build up of heat and pollution in the city…..it will become essential to build green. The planning stage for this is now!

Urban Heat Islands

building green

build green


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Pollution and Child Labor: The Tanneries of Bangladesh

Bangladesh

Bangladesh and Child Labor

By Linn Smith

March 26, 2017—-Following is a recent article concerning Bangladesh, child labor and the polluting tanneries published by the Associated Press.

 In a Planet Earth Weekly article, May 2014, Bangladesh: The Poster Child for Climate Change https://planetearth5.com/?s=bangladesh I recieved the following comment about the tanneries from Solid Bangla, a newspaper in Bangladesh:

solid bangla..
June 18, 2014 at 1:54 am
Such a good article. Bangladesh is going through its most difficult time and things seem to get worse. Climate change will severely affect Bangladesh for sure and also the rise in tanneries and unregulated brick fields are ruining the environment so badly. Corrupt politicians can not see this as most of them are uneducated and corrupt. But thanks for identifying some good and concerning sides. Good job and good luck to Bangladesh.

Bangladesh

Tanneries, child labor and pollution

The Polluting Tanneries of Bangladesh Mar 24, 11:37 AM EDT
BY MARTHA MENDOZA AND JULHAS ALAM
ASSOCIATED PRESS

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Hazardous, heavily polluting tanneries, with workers as young as 14, supplied leather to companies that make shoes and handbags for a host of Western brands, a nonprofit group that investigates supply chains says.

The report by New York-based Transparentem, released to The Associated Press on Friday, didn’t say leather from the tanneries ends up in American and European companies’ products, only that the manufacturers of some of those goods receive it.

Some companies say they’re certain the leather used to make their products was imported from outside Bangladesh, and the manufacturers concur. Still, in response to the report most brands had switched factories, banned Bangladesh leather or demanded improvements and audits.

The abuses alleged have long plagued Hazaribagh, a Dhaka neighborhood that’s the hub of Bangladesh’s leather industry with more than 150 tanneries. The air is noxious with an eye-stinging rotten-egg odor, and children play on small hills of rotting hide trimmings. The Buriganga River, a source of drinking water for 180,000 people, shimmers with poisons from tannery chemical runoff, as well as other human and industrial waste.

The $1 billion-a-year industry was ordered to shut down and move more than 15 years ago, but deadlines have passed without consequence and fines go unpaid. Last week, Bangladesh’s High Court told authorities to stop supplying gas, water and electricity to the tanneries. Rawhide supplies have also been ordered halted.

And yet they’re still in business, fueled by consumer demand for ever-more-stylish but low-priced wallets and boots.

Child labor of Bangladesh

Tanneries of Bangladesh

Transparentem uses investigative journalism practices to tackle labor and environmental abuses, producing detailed reports that are privately shared with companies involved. The group gives companies time to respond before sharing its findings with investors, regulators, advocacy organizations or journalists.

Its confidential Hazaribagh report and accompanying video, shared late last year with about a dozen U.S. and European brands and companies, showed workers at five different tanneries bent double under the weight of soaking wet cow hides, shuffling past heavy machinery delivering heavy loads. Workers are seen whipping handheld razors through leather, tossing off loose trimmings. Barrels of chemicals lean against walls. The floor is wet, and some workers are barefoot.

Bangladesh law prohibits workers under 18, but some appeared to be teenagers. The report says that in 2015, a mother confirmed her child working in a tannery was 14. Footage from 2016 showed the child was still working there. On the video, a 17-year-old told the videographer his age. And there’s 2016 footage of two workers agreeing that there are 15-year-olds onsite.

Transparentem is not publishing its findings but showed the video to an AP reporter before sharing the report. It said the discretion was needed to protect its investigators and the workers, and that the research is ongoing.

Bangladesh child labor

Tanneries, pollution and child labor

The nonprofit said its Hazaribagh team tracked leather first-hand and with corporate reports from two tanneries, Apex Tannery Ltd. and Bay Tannery Ltd., to Bangladesh shoemakers Apex Footwear and Bay Footwear. Apex Tannery also sent leather to South Korean leather dealer White Industries, said the report. From White, Transparentem tracked leather to Simone Accessories, a South Korean handbag maker.

Using customs records and business documents, they found those factories make shoes and purses for Clarks, Coach, Kate Spade, Macy’s, Michael Kors, Sears, Steven Madden and Timberland. Also included were Germany-based Deichmann, a shoe and sportswear chain, and two U.S. firms – Harbor Footwear Group and Genesco – which design and market shoes in even more brands.

No one followed a piece of leather produced by a child to a particular purse or shoe.

E. Benjamin Skinner, founder and principal of Transparentem, said the group investigates endemic problems within an industry, and looked into Apex and Bay because they are among the largest.

“We tell brands and retailers what they may not, but should, know about those with whom they do business. This gives them the opportunity to use their influence with their suppliers to address questionable activity and advance positive action,” Skinner said.

The American and European brands that responded to queries from the AP stated their commitments to prevent labor abuse in manufacturing. But some brands, the Bangladeshi companies involved and industry officials disputed the report’s findings.

“That NGO went to our buyers too,” said Shahin Ahmed, chairman of the Bangladesh Tanners’ Association. “They showed them some video clips of child workers who are engaged in manufacturing some byproducts. … They are no way part of the main industry, I can challenge anybody.”

Syed Nasim Manzur, managing director of Apex Footwear and a director at the Apex Tannery, calls Hazaribagh “an environmental disaster” and said they’ll soon close their plant there. But he said the report is a “smear campaign,” allegations of child labor are unsubstantiated, and Hazaribagh leather doesn’t end up in exported products.

Manzur said Apex Footwear and Apex Tannery are separate entities, although they have some owners in common and are associated businesses. He said Apex Footwear has two separate shoe-making factories, one for local markets and another, across the street, for exports. The Hazaribagh leather goes only to the local factory, he said.

Bay Footwear technical adviser Rezaur Rahman, speaking for Bay Group, which includes their tannery, called Transparentem’s findings “absolutely baseless.”

“We worked with the International Labor Organization and trade unions. I don’t understand how and where they found child workers in the industry,” Rahman said. “We don’t have any child workers.”

Coach – whose website says their produce is “handcrafted from the finest American and European hides and textiles” – said they get no more than 1.5 percent of their leather from Hazaribagh and Kate Spade said they get just 1 percent. Both said they’re stopping any purchases from Hazaribagh.

Michael Kors and Harbor Footwear said they were a few steps removed from the Hazaribagh tanneries, hadn’t knowingly sourced leather there, and would make sure not to.

Clarks and Deichmann said they are certain no Hazaribagh leather ended up in their products.

Deichmann said Apex Footwear only makes their shoes with imported leather or hides processed at Apex Gazipur tannery that they’ve audited.

A Clarks spokesman said the company “is only responsible for the sourcing of materials in our own products and cannot control the sourcing of others.”

Sears, Timberland, Macy’s, Genesco and Steven Madden all said that while they weren’t getting leather from the tanneries, they saw an opportunity to use their companies’ leverage at the related factories to bring improvements, with some using threats, others offering auditors and support.

Attorneys representing Apex Footwear and Macy’s, Steven Madden and Genesco signed an agreement last month that says Apex will verify that all tannery workers are adults using protective gear, and that independent auditors would oversee longer-term improvements.

Steve Park, sales director at White Industry Co., said the South Korean company stopped using raw materials from Bangladesh late last year after U.S. clients such as Coach, Michael Kors and Kate Spade informed them about environmental problems and child labor issues. Now they use American, Brazilian and Pakistani suppliers, he said.

Scott Nova at the Worker Rights Consortium in Washington, D.C., said a brand or retailer that is serious about protecting worker rights, and about honoring its public commitments to do so, would not do business with a factory that sources from suppliers that engage in dangerous and abusive practices.

“This principle applies, whether or not leather from the tanneries in question is being used in a brand’s products,” he said.

Global brands are drawn to manufacturing in Bangladesh by low wages, and leather shoes, belts and purses are top exports. But many Bangladeshi manufacturers depend on domestic tanneries for their leather, and 90 percent of those tanneries are in Hazaribagh.

Conditions in the neighborhood are deplorable. Chemicals and defecation run milky-white through open sewers, pouring untreated into the river, more of a waste pond than a waterway. Metal tarnishes quickly; electronics corrode.

Tannery workers live in small, hot, steel-walled rooms perched on precarious stilts above creeks of raw sewage and mounds of stinking scraps.

AP journalists were not allowed inside Apex and Bay’s Hazaribagh tanneries, but workers walking out said no children were employed there now.

Reporters did find children working in smaller Hazaribagh tanneries not mentioned by Transparentem. The work is hazardous, with large equipment and little to none of the protective clothing, splash aprons, safety goggles and respirators mandatory at North American and European tanneries.

The AP team watched as a man tasted liquid from a drum that processes leather to test for salt levels.

“We would hope to avoid the harm that can be caused by the liquid when the body and the limbs are exposed to it,” said another Hazaribagh leather tanner, Mohammed Harun, 52. “There are some powders and chemicals that infect us when inhaled.”

He said they need boots, gloves and masks.

“If the owners provide us with these things, it will improve the situation,” he said.

A British Medical Journal study published this week found that Bangladeshi tannery workers as young as 8 frequently have untreated rashes and infections, as well as asthma and other lung problems. Pure Earth – a nongovernmental organization that addresses industrial pollution – has put Hazaribagh on its Top 10 list of polluted places, along with Chernobyl. Similar problems exist at tannery clusters in the Philippines and India.

Human Rights Watch advocate Richard Pearhouse, who has reported on pollution and child labor at Hazaribagh tanneries, said none comply with national environmental laws or repeated court orders to move.

American shoppers can make a difference, he said.

“Consumers should be asking plenty of sharp questions on the shop floor about what retailers are doing to guarantee they are not sourcing leather from Hazaribagh’s toxic tanneries,” he said.

Banladesh tanneries: child labor and pollution


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Grameen Shakti: One of The World’s Fastest Growing Renewable Energy Companies

Renewables in Bangladesh

Shakti provides solar for rural areas.

“Sustainable Energy: Entrepreneurial companies like Shakti are proving we can do far better than business as usual.”

By Linn Smith

February 10, 2017—-Founded in 1996 in Bangladesh, Grameen Shakti has installed over 5 million solar home systems and created over 100,000 clean energy jobs. Grameen Shakti was set up as a not-for-profit in 1996 to bring modern energy services to households, by providing both energy technology (solar-home-systems for electricity, improved stoves and biogas for cooking) and affordable finance, at a local level.

Renewable Energy

Shakti provides solar for small businesses.

Solar in Rural Bangladesh

In Bangledesh 80% of the population lives in rural areas, which is where Grameen Shakti gets its name—translation is “rural energy”. Nearly half of rural Bangladesh becomes islands during the rainy season as snow melts in the Himalayas, rushing through the countryside to the Indian Ocean. Income varies among the populations with many people finding solar out of reach because of low income. Obtaining solar would equal the entirety of several months wages for some people.

Grameen Shakti

Solar power is provided for rural Bangladesh.

Creating Rural Supply Chains for Solar

Shakti focuses its solar energy towards what the customer needs, and makes plans with the rural people to pay for it with very affordable loans. In an article by Nancy Wimmer, director of microSOLAR, she states, “Shakti meets this challenge by creating rural supply chains and after-sales service. Its engineers and technicians live, work and are trained on the job in the villages. They become part of the community, keep in close contact with their customers, and make sure the solar systems are in good repair and running properly. If there is a problem, Shakti is on site to solve it – even in times of disaster. Shakti sent young, motivated engineers into the hinterland to set up its first branches. They won the trust of the villagers, trained village technicians, managed all financing, solar installations and maintenance. This laid the groundwork for Shakti’s quality service and steady growth, but it took years to develop.” Shakti now has 1500 branch offices in every district of Bangledesh, and has trained mostly women as engineers.

Grameen Shakti

Shakti provides Bangladesh with solar power.

Solar and Biogas: Creating Clean Energy

Today Grameen Shakti has reached nearly 8 million rural dwellers, with not only solar but also biogas plants, which are produced by the breakdown of organic matter such as agricultural waste, manure sewage or food waste. It has also provided over 600,000 energy efficient cook stoves to rural areas.

Wimmer also states, “There are no silver bullets for solving the many problems facing traditional rural societies, but entrepreneurial companies like Shakti are proving we can do far better than business as usual. Shakti succeeds in such a tough business because it has found a way to provide affordable services and financing to a million village customers with microcredit.”

Shakti: Moving Towards a Low Carbon Vison

Shakti is a winner of the Ashden award, which supports sustainable energy trailblazers that focus on a world where everyone has access to affordable, clean energy. The Ashden awards recipients are encouraged to move closer towards a low carbon vision through tangible, powerful examples to inspire others to act by providing the winners finance, publicity, and research.

Grameen Shakti: Doing what it can, where it can to create a healthier planet!


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  The Depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer

Ogallala aquifer depletion

Depletion of the aquifer

“The Ogallala is recharged by rainwater but only about 1 inch of precipitation actually reaches the aquifer annually.”

By Linn Smith

April 12, 2016—–The Ogallala Aquifer is at risk of drying up! The aquifer, which is part of the High Plains Aquifer, underlies portions of 8 states, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas, and spans 175,000 sq. miles in the midwest United States. Water from the aquifer has many uses but irrigation uses the majority—57 million gallons per day! The Ogallala also supplies approximately 82% of the drinking water for the overlying states.

Water Accumulation in the Ogallala

Water started accumulating in the aquifer 15,000 years ago. Brownie Wilson, a researcher for the Kansas Geological Survey, states, “If the topsoil were rolled up like a carpet the sponge beneath would look like an empty egg carton, with peaks and valleys of varying depths. In parts of western Nebraska, where the Ogallala is plentiful, the sponge extends as far as a thousand feet below the Earth’s surface.”

Depletion of the Ogallala

The Aquifer lies beneath 8 states.

Water Extraction of the Aquifer

Large scale extraction of water from the aquifer for farming purposes began after WWII due to improved farming methods and farm equipment. About 27% of the irrigated farmland in the U.S. lies over the aquifer. Currently the farmland above the aquifer produces about 1/5 of the beef, corn and wheat consumed in the U.S., but the water is depleting faster than nature can replenish it according to an ongoing 60 year study.

In some parts of western Kansas wells have totally dried up! Between the years 2000 and 2008, 25% of the Ogallala Aquifer has depleted from levels of the early 1800’s. Once depleted the aquifer will take over 6,000 years to replenish naturally from rainfall. A 2013 study forecasted that the High Plains Aquifer, which the Ogallala makes up the greatest portion, would be 69% depleted by 2060.The Ogallala is recharged by rainwater but only about 1 inch of precipitation actually reaches the aquifer annually. Recharge of the aquifer ranges from 0.024 inches per year in Texas and New Mexico to 6 inches per year in parts of Kansas, but hundreds of thousands of years of rainfall will be needed to replenish it back to its levels of the early 1800’s.

Ogallala aquifer

U.S. Aquifers are being depleted.

A Depleted Aquifer will Affect Food Supply

In an article written by Laura Parker,” What Happens to the Midwest When the Water’s Gone?” she states “If they don’t reduce pumping and the aquifer is drained, food markets will be profoundly affected around the world. In the coming decades this slow-speed crisis will unfold just as the world needs to increase food production by 60 percent, according to the United Nations, to feed more than nine billion people by mid-century.”

Solutions to a Depleted Aquifer

Solutions? Farmers can either conserve water and extend the life of the aquifer or choose to deplete it. Farmers can dig deeper wells if they run out of water, but the cost has to be determined because eventually deeper and deeper wells could cost more than the income from the crops.

The North Plains Groundwater Conservation District in Texas has introduced a new project to conserve water. Participating farmers grow corn with just over half of the water they would normally require to irrigate the fields using pivot sprinklers rather than the water consuming drip system and they plant crops farther apart to help conserve water. Many farmers are choosing the dryland farming method which uses crops that are drought-resistant and conserve moisture without irrigation. Such crops include sunflowers and winter wheat, but these crops produce less income than crops from irrigated farming, so pressure is on many farmers to keep pumping.

The Ogallala Aquifer and Water Rights

What is happening to the Ogallala Aquifer is also happening to aquifers in Africa, Asia and the Mideast. Again, just as the population of our earth is exploding, our aquifers are becoming contaminated and depleted, taking thousands of years to refill. We need to conserve our groundwater to sustain food production for an increasing population. In Kansas and Nebraska, groundwater belongs to the public. Water rights are granted to property owners by the state, which assign a certain amount that can be legally used—-but what’s available on paper often exceeds what’s left in the ground! Farmers often feel the water is legally theirs to use until it’s gone!

Laura Parker says, “Hope lies in technology; farmers show me iPhone apps that track water use so precisely that as little as a tenth of an inch can be applied to their crops. In Colby, Kansas, Lon Frahm, who farms 30,000 acres of wheat and corn, irrigates with two billion gallons of water yearly. He counts among his farmhands an IT technician who collects data to keep his yields ahead of his declining wells.”

Wind Farms Replace Crops

In the past several years many farmers have retired from crop farming, leasing their land to wind energy. Outside Friona, Texas, northwest of Lubbock, Wesley Barnett leases wind rights on his land to an energy company. The going rate runs about $10,000 a year per turbine.  Barnett says he can’t water his land anymore so for some people, wind is a lifeline.

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A Trump Presidency: Can Our Environment Survive?

Climate Change and Mass Extinction

Mass extinction could happen again-do we care?

“Utilities companies will buy from sources based on economics, not politics, and its difficult to see how utilities would suddenly start buying coal.”

By Linn Smith

November 18, 2016—The big question on my mind the past several weeks concerns the effects of a Trump presidency on our environment. Will the years of effort towards clean energy, both locally and globally, survive under the new administration? I must admit to feeling more than a little worried! Trump has no clean energy plan and appears to have very little knowledge or interest in the environment, denying scientific facts of our rapidly warming planet!

Clean Energy Speaks Loudest

According to an article in Computerworld, “Trump’s Coal Revival Plan Won’t Work”, analysts say clean energy will be difficult to reverse because, “clean energy has become so cheap it will continue to increase its domination of the energy industry.”—the pocketbook speaks the loudest!

Trump and Energy Plan

Will it remain?

But Trump still may undo the tax credit for solar, the Clean Energy Plan and our support for the Paris Agreement (see planetearth5.com, “The Historic Paris Climate Conference-Cop21”). Raj Prabhu, CEO for a clean energy firm, commented on the tax credit roll back that may happen under the Trump administration, “It could happen, but it’s unlikely, due to the bipartisan nature of how the bill was passed in Congress and the momentum solar has right now. Solar has gone mainstream with utilities companies, businesses, and home owners, not to mention that solar jobs exceed over 200,000.” Last year 31,000 new solar jobs were added to the industry, 20 times the national average for job creation. Plus, solar power systems prices are constantly declining–30% in 2016.

Prabhu also states “Contrary to election rhetoric, it’s not regulation or renewable subsidies that are killing coal; it’s actually natural gas, which is cheap and abundant. Utilities companies will buy from sources based on economics, not politics, and its difficult to see how utilities would suddenly start buying coal.” Added to this is the fact that, although environmentally devastating, many coal mining jobs have been lost due to table top mining, which requires less labor.

Earth Day

Clean Energy: Make It a Priority!

Countering the Trump Administration

William Yardley of the Los Angeles Times, states in his article, “Will Paris Climate Accord and Other Environmental Pacts Survive a Trump Presidency?” that Trump will be the only world leader to question whether climate change is real. ” Many activists have long argued that government cannot be counted on to lead on climate issues. Some say a blend of global market forces affecting fossil fuels, the declining cost of solar and wind energy, grass-roots activism, legal action in U.S. courts and international pressure could help counter whatever efforts a Trump administration might make to undo existing policies.”

Lack of Leadership Won’t Stop Transition To Clean Energy

And K.C. Golden chairman of 350.org, “This is obviously a setback, in part because we started so damn late and there’s already quite a bit of damage, but this transition (renewable energy) is underway and it’s driven by a whole lot of things–human will, local policy, state policy, international policy, and technology development. There will be more of a price to pay and more climate damage will accumulate and be inflicted on people, because we’ll go slower than we would go if we had concerted American leadership, but the lack of American leadership won’t stop the transition.”

Maybe I have searched for the more positive aspects concerning predictions about our future under a new administration with no clean energy plan, but that’s ok. Me, and maybe a few of you, needed it! We, as individuals, must embrace the responsibility to create a cleaner environment, while supporting local, state and international efforts towards saving our planet.

Clean Energy and the Trump Administration


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When Fracking Takes Precedence Over People

Fracking, Earthquakes and Greenhouse gases

Fracking Contributes to Greenhouse Gases

“The essence of what the legislature and government have done is to give energy corporations a license to drill, wherever and whenever, they want!”

By Dr. John J. Hidore

October 12, 2016—Fracking, as a mining tool, continues to spread! It has long been known by geologists that shale deposits deep underground often contain natural gas. In recent decades there has been a growing fracking industry, based on mining oil and natural gas from these deposits.

The Process of Fracking

The process if fracking involves drilling vertically into a deep shale deposit. Once in the shale, the drill is turned to work horizontally. A variety of chemicals and other ingredients are sent down the well under high pressure. This breaks up the shale and releases the oil or natural gas. This form of well drilling is called hydraulic fracturing or fracking. There are thousands of such wells in the United States and the number is growing rapidly. In the U.S. most of these wells are concentrated in the Southwest.

Fracking Increases Methane Emissions

While fracking produces large amounts of natural gas, there are a number of problems which result from this technique. In the drilling stage, there is often a flow back up the well that sends a mixture of methane and drilling material to the earth’s surface and into the atmosphere.

Methane is 20 times more effective, weight to weight, in absorbing earth radiation than is carbon dioxide. It is second only to carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas emitted by industries in the U.S. The combination of carbon dioxide and methane combined account for 93% of greenhouse gas emissions at present! A survey of fracking sites in Pennsylvania revealed drilling operations emitting plumes of methane, up to 1000 times greater than the standards the EPA are in the process of finalizing.

Fracking is now the largest source of methane emission in the United States! It contributes to the concentration of methane in the atmosphere and, thus, to global warming. Fracking is associated with increasing earthquakes and a methane cloud above the earth. The concentration of these wells in some regions has also led to other problems. In the Great Plains, swarms of earthquakes have recently occurred which are associated with fracking. Earthquakes have always occurred in Oklahoma, but they have increased rapidly in the past few years. In September of this year, about 250 earthquakes were recorded and there have been more than 2500 in the past year.

Fracking and local water sources

Fracking can contaminate drinking water.

Fracking and Earthquakes

These earthquakes have been attributed to the injection of waste water which results from the drilling of wells based on fracking. The volume of waste water injection has increased nearly 80% in just the past six years. To reduce the hazard the government ordered several dozen waste water wells in one area shut down. In addition to the increasing number of earthquakes, a long lasting methane cloud has also appeared over parts of the great plains. The cloud covers more than 2500 square miles and is centered over New Mexico. At last report the cloud was still growing and adding to global warming problems.

In spite of the problems associated with fracking some states actively encourage the mining process. Among these is North Carolina. For years horizontal drilling for oil and gas was banned in order to protect the ground water supply upon which so many depended for fresh water. That protection was totally abandoned in 2012. In that year the Republicans controlled the legislature, passing a bill that legalized horizontal drilling and making fracking legal. The next year the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offered North Carolina $500,000 in grants to fund water quality monitoring in areas most likely to be affected by fracking. The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources rejected the grant. The state now protects the mining company’s right to drill.

Fracking and earthquakes

Fracking is contributing to earthquakes in the U.S.

Fracking and Lack of Regulation

In 2014 the legislature of North Carolina passed legislation which hastened the prospects for fracking in North Carolina. The legislation prohibits any local government, such as cities or counties, from attempting to regulate fracking in any manner. It also protects energy companies from any legal actions taken by individuals. The legislation permits mining companies to keep secret the chemicals it uses in the fracking process. It makes it a crime for any citizen to reveal the contents of the fracking chemicals under any circumstances.

The essence of what the legislature and governor have done is to give energy corporations a license to drill, wherever and whenever, they want!


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The World Solar Challenge: Developing Cars for our Future

Solar Car

The World Solar Challenge: Designing cars for our future/

“The World Solar Challenge contest is primarily designed to find the world’s most efficient solar car and to inspire some of the brightest young people on the planet to address the imperatives of sustainable transport!”

By Linn Smith

September 12, 2016—-The World Solar Challenge (worldsolarchallenge.org) is a solar car race that takes place in Australia every two years. Teams from universities, corporations and even high schools from around the world participate to promote research on solar-powered cars. The solar car race began in 1987 and in 2015 there were 43 teams from 23 different countries entering the race. The 30th anniversary of the race will be October 8-15, 2017.

The Solar Challenge

The Solar Car of the Future

Hans Tholstrup and the Solar Car

The idea for the contest came from Hans Tholstrup who was the first to navigate a solar car coast to coast across a country–Australia. In 1982 Hans Tholstrup, along with Larry Perkins, drove their solar car across Australia in 20 days. (See article, “The First solar Car to Cross a Continent”, Planet Earth Weekly, August 24, 2016.) The contestants in the World Solar Race are allowed 5kw hours of stored energy, which is about 10% of the necessary energy to make the trip across Australia, a total of 1900 miles. All other energy must come from the sun, or the kinetic energy generated from the motion of the vehicle.

The Solar Achiever

The solar car traveled 2500 miles in 20 days.

The Solar Car Race

Every two years the race starts in Darwin, Northern Territory in Australia and ends in Adelaide, South Australia. According to worldsolarchallenge.org, “Once the teams have left Darwin they must travel as far as they can until 5pm in the afternoon, where they make camp in the desert wherever they happen to be. All teams must be fully self-sufficient and for all concerned it is a great adventure – many say the adventure of a lifetime!” During the journey there are 7 mandatory check points where team managers may update themselves with the latest information on the weather and their own position in the field and perform the most basic of maintenance only, checking and maintenance of tire pressure and cleaning of debris from the vehicle.

Solar race across Australia.

Building cars for our future!

The Solar Car Categories

There are 3 categories of solar cars. The Challenger class makes the trip in a single stage from Darwin to Adelaide. The Cruiser Class is conducted as a regularity trial and the Adventure Class is a non-competitive class which consists of cars built for previous events.

Solar cars for our future

Driving Across Australia

The World Solar Challenge contest is primarily designed to find the world’s most efficient solar car and to inspire some of the brightest young people on the planet to address the imperatives of sustainable transport! You can find the entry forms online on the Solar Challenge website. A chance of a lifetime!

The solar Car race

Entry in the solar car race.


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The First Solar Car to Cross a Continent

The Solar Achiever, 1984

The first solar car to cross a continent.

“Although solar power has been used in less spectacular ways, this was the first trans-continental crossing in a vehicle deriving its energy from the sun.”

By Linn Smith

August 24, 2016—-“Maybe one day we’ll all be driving around in solar-powered cars. And, if that happens, the names of Hans Tholstrup and Larry Perkins will have a place in history. Without men like these, this would be a duller place. The spirit of adventure is not yet dead.”—Melbourne Herald News

The Solar Achiever

The solar car took only 8 months to build.

The Quiet Achiever

In Australia in 1982, Perkins and Tholstrup, wanting to popularize solar, built the first solar-manned car to cross a continent. With an attitude of, “There’s nothing that can’t be done,” they built the solar vehicle for about $50,000. The car, known as the Quiet Achiever, was designed in only 8 months. It was piloted by Perkins and Tholstrup who only stopped along the route at night to camp. In less than 20 days, the solar powered car made its trek from Perth to Sydney, traveling 2,500 miles from coast to coast across Australia.

The Solar Achiever

The solar car traveled 2500 miles in 20 days.

Using Only the Sun’s Power

The body of the solar car was made of fiberglass and the frame of steel tubing. It had a 1 kilowatt photovoltaic power system mounted on the roof that allowed it to travel approximately 14 miles per hour. Using only the sun for power, the two 12 volt batteries stored enough power to give the car about 90 minutes of energy without the sun. But on this trip there was enough sun to keep the car fully charged at all times. The solar car met with very few problems and was periodically monitored to assure that only solar power was being used.

The Melbourne Age newspaper stated at the time, “The journey of Hans Tholstrup and Larry Perkins from Perth to Sydney in The Quiet Achiever will go down as one of the pioneering feats in history. Although solar power has been used in less spectacular ways, this was the first trans-continental crossing in a vehicle deriving its energy from the sun. It constitutes the fastest chapter in man’s learning how to co-operate with powers beyond his own–the sun!”

The Solar Achiever